Who is the man with whom Jacob wrestled until dawn? Some say it was an angel. Others believe it was God.
Jacob is returning home. He had gone to find a wife, as his father had before him, in the land of their ancestors. He had found what he had been seeking, but it had become a complicated situation involving not one but two wives and a crafty father-in-law, Laban, who trapped him into working for him for over twenty years. Through cunning, intelligence, and some help from God, Jacob had grown wealthy – so much so that his brothers-in-law were grumbling. Jacob had decided he had better leave, and quickly. He had decamped with his family and all his possessions, leaving behind an angry pack of in-laws.
He is not expecting a warm welcome at home. Before he left, he had tricked his brother, Esau, out of his birthright in a scheme concocted by their mother. Esau has every reason to hate him. And this brother has become a powerful chieftain in Jacob’s absence.
Jacob has sent to tell Esau that he is back in the area. He hears that Esau is coming to meet him – with four hundred men. He sends gifts to Esau to appease him, and he splits his company in two to confuse him. Then he and his wives and children flee in the night. He sends his family on to relative safety and is now alone in the darkness. This is when the man wrestles with him.
Maybe it is Jacob himself who is the man with whom Jacob wrestles until dawn. He is accustomed to using a combination of clever trickery and running away to get what he wants. He is used to getting by on his own efforts, and he has never faced his brother. Perhaps in one part of himself he believes he can trick Esau and run away again, but in another part he knows the game is up; he must face this man whom he has so deeply wronged, this man who is closer to him than any other relative, his twin.
What is it in our lives that names us? Is it not coming to terms with who we are? Is it not the decisions we make as to what values we will embrace and how they will guide us in moments of duress? Is it not making difficult choices?
Jacob wrestles through the night. Struggling in the darkness with all the voices within us – the fearful, the longing, the selfish, the hateful, the loving – brings us eventually to the dawn of new resolve.
It is a process that wounds us. Jacob’s hip is put out of joint — an extremely painful injury. Though not permanent, it really inhibits the ability to get around. Wrestling with ourselves destroys a kind of innocent belief in infallibility and power. It seriously stops us in our tracks and leaves us vulnerable.
At dawn Jacob is named. He becomes Israel, for he “has striven with divine and human beings and has prevailed.” He is no longer of two minds and two hearts but has unified his urge to love with his urge to run. And so, limping, he gathers all he cares about most in the world and goes to meet his brother.
May we also find the courage to wrestle through the night. And may we come forth vulnerable and open before all that we have wronged.
Laurie Gudim is a writer, religious iconographer, and spiritual director living in Ft. Collins, CO. To get to know her a little better visit everydaymysteries.com.